When discussing comics artists, readers often create schools of style or comparison points to explain a new favorite individual to their friends. Fans might say someone “is like Steve Lieber with a greater affection for ink washes and sharp lines” or “definitely falls into the Moebius approach to comics with some additional exaggeration and grotesquerie.” These points of comparison help us to understand how art develops and artists inspire one another. It also makes it all the more astounding when an artist defies easy or natural comparisons. This is the first reaction many have when attempting to explain the incredible artwork of Tradd Moore.
There are certainly influences within Moore’s work. It’s impossible to imagine a world with Moore that doesn’t also feature Katsuhiro Otomo or Moebius, but it would be absurd to treat his pages as being overtly similar to any others found in comics today. His style and approach to the page are idiosyncratic in the best sense of that term. Simply put, there is no one like Tradd Moore.
That is why it is so exciting to see Moore return to monthly comics this week in the five-part miniseries The New World published by Image Comics. Moore and writer Ales Kot are telling the story of two lovers on opposite sides of the culture war in a version of the United States that has experienced a second Civil War. It’s a wild concept that plays to the strengths of both creators, especially with one of the leads playing a cop with a reality TV show and literal license to kill. There is no artist who captures the adrenaline and excitement of action in comics quite like Moore, and there is plenty of action in The New World. That is why we are taking a look back at Moore’s work to date and what sets him apart as the best artist in action comics today.
A thrown punch, fired bullets, an enormous leap; these are the essential vocabulary of action comics. The actions themselves involved in a fight build upon one another to tell a story with the pacing, suspense, and visceral reactions necessary to make static images absolutely thrilling. This is where Tradd Moore lives on the comics page.
There is a fluidity to his work that captures power within every single action. Musculature is incredibly well designed to indicate both the force behind movement and how exactly it functions. Some figures are lithe with their forms flowing like the sea (e.g. Black Widow in covers of Secret Avengers) while others are formed of interconnected boulders, each pronounced in a puzzle of interlocking movements (e.g. Luther Strode). It’s their purposeful, combined design that allows a punch to really land and make readers recoil in the same moment.
The style of these separate pieces would not have much impact if the actions did not come together in the same way that the anatomy of these Liefeld-ian bodies did. Moore expands and contracts his page layouts to provide a rhythm to the work. He can incorporate more than a dozen quick punches in a page or the power of a haymaker in a splash. What is important is that the elements of these fights are never repeated. The fight itself is a story in which fortunes and fortitude ebb and flow. The detailed anatomy of a single panel is reflected in the equally complex connections within a multi-page fight sequence with storytelling sinew binding all of it together.
When you look at Moore’s work, the cause-and-effect nature within every action is evident, something that is essential is action storytelling. A punch is thrown therefore a man goes flying therefore he knocks over another man, and so on. One essential effect of fighting though is the damage it does to the human body. Bullets and fists result in real damage, evidenced by the accumulation of bruises, blood, and even worse forms of gore. While there is an intense beauty to Moore’s smooth line work, he has never been an artist to hesitate about depicting the grisly consequences of what is occurring on the page. As an action artist, he often toes the line of being an expert illustrator of the horror genre, as well.
The best example of this approach lies in the multiple Luther Strode series, stories of a young man who obtains absurd control over his own muscles to engage in impossibly violent fights. In the first series alone punches and kicks are thrown quickly enough to tear men in half. The same level of detail that Moore gives to the exterior of bodies is provided for the interiors as well. Intestines spill out from cuts in the belly and other effects leave raw muscle exposed to the light. In these sequences his slick line work gives everything the slippery appearance of being soaked in blood. While those details may not be for the faint of heart, they render the effects of violence in an unforgettable fashion.
Not all of Moore’s action is wrapped up in battles between bodies though. When he briefly traveled to Marvel Comics for the creation of All-New Ghost Rider in 2014, Moore showed off a knack for making car chases every bit as thrilling as fisticuffs. While the thrills of physical combat have been a central draw for comics fans in every region for decades, chase sequences have been notably difficult to depict. It would be hard to believe that given how effective the first few issues of All-New Ghost Rider are, though.
Vehicles exude the same level of detail and power as human bodies, with frames designed to heave from the power of the engine and contour perfectly with speed lines as they accelerate. Moore took a number of different perspective to portray the flow of chases and create a sense of momentum, utilizing bird’s eye maps in addition to long perspectives that accentuated distance. The results were nothing short of thrilling.
Perfecting the comics car chase sequence revealed a consistent set of themes within the artwork of Tradd Moore. He is an artist obsessed with power and form, capable of engaging these big ideas in whatever format they might take. From the herculean builds of a superhero’s body to the cold steel of a muscle car, Moore consistently captures the essence of what makes these ideas exciting, powerful, and sometimes frightening. Every new idea he approaches applies these themes in a different manner, but they are all executed with the same level of precision and detailed style. That is what makes Tradd Moore the best artist in action comics today.